Friday, October 12, 2007

:: Never Gotten An Email From Me At 3am? Hmm. Wonder Why. ::

Because I feel like I should be more conflicted about not working on my dissertation, I stage phony debates in my mind. I make molehills into mountains, ascribing significance where there need not be any. The current silly debate is this:

Should I return my last seven library books, or should I just continue to renew them over and over again, ten weeks at a time, until I am ready to use them?

Obviously the answer should be to return them. They have been sitting on my desk since April. There are probably other people who would like to use them. Plus I'm not all that confident that the part of my brain that remembers to renew them before their due dates won't be occupied at a crucial moment with singing "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" to my kid.

Furthermore, I don't even need them. Returning them really has no bearing on whether I finish this chapter or not. I have at least a full month of concentrated work (several months at the slow pace a baby induces, years at my current rate) before I need these books anyway. If I started spending three hours a day five days a week on this chapter I would not need these books until after their due date.

And yet I have worked up this silly debate, turned these books into the crucial linchpin holding me to my dissertation and preventing us both from falling into a deep, dark, possibly wet abyss.

I have drafted a couple different versions of this post in which I squirm over the decision and in which I say things like this:

They are on interesting topics like Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing and Fundamentals of Language. It's a wonder, really, that I haven't devoured them during nap times, letting Evan cry a few minutes so I can just finish this chapter.

I know. Year-Ago Me thought they were interesting. Now Me thinks they sound about as captivating as dust accumulating on picture frames. Enh. Who cares?

This is what we call Not Good.

I haven't worked on my dissertation in 30 days. One whole month. Not a single word read or written, not one intelligent dissertation-related thought pondered. I have done nothing and I don't miss it at all.

This is what we call Very Bad.

This, dear friends and readers, is what we call a load of crap. I do not feel bad at all. I have done nothing in 30 days and I don't miss it at all and I think that's just fine. I feel no inner turmoil about this, only outer turmoil. Only angst that I manufacture to veil ever-so-thinly the truth: that what I am really angst-y about is what you think of me for not caring.

What do you think of the fact that I am happily replacing Lodge's Modes of Modern Writing with Seuss's There's a Wocket In My Pocket?

What of the fact that I spent Evan's three hour long nap (!!!) yesterday afternoon emptying my entire closet and purging it of more than 75% of its contents and then knitted before bed, times when I might have been pondering the difference between how Henry James uses settings and how F. Scott Fitzgerald does?

Do you think I am being foolish?

Are you just so sure that I am going to regret this?

Do you think I've already given up on something I spent four-plus years on?

Do you think I'm a quitter or that I've just got blinders on to the fact that the glow of being a mommy will all wear off soon enough and I'll wish I had my Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing book here to pore over?

Self-torturing melodrama aside, though, I really feel like whatever happens with this dissertation, whether it gets finished or doesn't, it will be the right thing. I have applied for a fellowship which would allow me to continue getting my stipend for ONE FULL YEAR without teaching, in turn making it possible for me to work on my dissertation during the ten hours a week we currently have a babysitter. And if I get that, then maybe I will gladly take to the books like a plane to the sky. Maybe I won't. I really don't miss it at all.

And yet, that fellowship is probably the only way I am ever really going to be able to finish. I could always take a leave of absence and therefore not have to teach but we would also be losing a small but important sliver of our income, which is not OK. We're taking a hit already having to pay someone to watch Evan each week while I teach, but we'd be taking a much bigger hit if I quit teaching. And quitting teaching wouldn't give me any more time to write unless we could still have someone come in weekly so I could work. A triply big hit.

I know that other people have kids and teach and still write dissertations. These are the people who email you at 3 in the morning. My advisor, for example, emails me at 3 in the morning. I email you at 8:30 in the evening. I have this switch in my head that, like the valve in your car's gas line that prevents gas from flowing when your car is turned upside down, just won't allow me to overstress my body or my mind. I am supremely aware of my needs, my wants, and my limits. I prioritize like no Seven Habits disciple ever has before.

The only thing that still stands between these seven library books and their proper homes in the dusty, dank-smelling stacks is the fact that I will have to carry them. Nearly a mile. While carrying my other things for school.

Seems easier to just renew them.


genevieve October 12, 2007 at 7:25 AM  

I'm a sure that a Ph.D. is really only valuable if it's valuable to you, so I really respect your inclination to let it go if and when that feels right to you.

That's hard to say, because I'm in my first year of the Ph.D., but if I've learned anything about the other degrees I've accumulated it is that no degree is a guarantee to your dream job anyway (well, no degree in the humanities!). And, from what I can tell, your dream job right now is raising Evan. My third wave feminist self does not see a problem with that :o) So I think you should do what feels right to you, and if what you're saying is that you really don't feel guilty about letting it go if you don't get the fellowship (and maybe not even then, the fellowship would just mean taking another shot at it) then let it go.

You know, I really respect and admire you for being willing to be honest with yourself and not just stick with it because that's what other people in your field expect you to do. I think that takes a lot of nerve. It's not, in fact, the path of least resistance, even if it feels like that. That would be just trying to please everyone but yourself, and I just don't see why that's ever worth it.

Julie Pippert October 12, 2007 at 9:16 AM  

I think the thing to ask is...why doesn't it matter or invoke guilt? If ti fell off your priority list, then que sera, right?

But...the carrying and returning books sounds like New Mother Ennui to me. Watch that, please.

You've got a lot of changes, recently, yes?

Do you have any introvert tendencies?

If so...can you get a day, I'm not kidding like 4 hours or so, where you can Go Out Alone and just Be You? Refresh and recharge?

Maybe what you want is a fresh perspective.

Good luck and hope this is within boundary and somehow helpful. :)

Using My Words

Julie October 12, 2007 at 10:29 AM  

Julie -- Thanks for your comment. It's within boundaries. : ) DEFINITE introvert tendencies here, I won't lie. And I've already asked for my few hours this weekend. (I'm going to go to the gym and then go BRA SHOPPING!) Not returning the books is a half-joke and partly just also the truth -- what a pain to lug those books to the library. I have other things to do on the two days I'm on campus (and on my me-time, campus ain't where I'm headed).

And Genevieve, your comment is thoughtful and reassuring and all good things. It's had me thinking all day, actually. In fact... I'm responding (in a way) in a new post.

Follow-Up To “Never Gotten An Email” « Letter9 October 12, 2007 at 11:21 AM  

[...] been thinking all day about this, this, and this. And I’ve realized a few important things that I hadn’t really seen [...]

bubandpie October 12, 2007 at 12:47 PM  

And - this is why it's good to live in Canada. The one-year mat leave means that even if you don't take all of it, there's a general sense that no one's expected to think really HARD about anything for at least a year after the baby is born.

bubandpie October 12, 2007 at 12:47 PM  

I've fallen way behind on my blog reading, so I'm catching up here. And I know you already said this on my blog but - your baby is really young. Later on, some kind of rapprochement occurs between the before-baby you and the new-mom you - when that happens, it will be soon enough to write the dissertation.

Julie October 12, 2007 at 2:38 PM  

Wow. One year. I got six weeks and I had to beg, borrow, and steal to get it. I really did have to steal -- a very kind gentleman in my department had to give up a 25% appointment so that we could make my leave work.

Oh, Canada.

a pinkroom October 12, 2007 at 4:57 PM  

I think you're avoiding the real problem here, which is...why are you singing "Froggy Went A Courtin'" to your child?

Julie October 13, 2007 at 6:03 AM  

JL, obviously you haven't heard the completely freakin awesome version of "Froggy" by Bruce Springsteen. I am, like, too young for Springsteen and could really give a flying fig about his records and stuff but Brian got his We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and it is one of the coolest albums. "Old John Tucker" is particularly awesome, plus there's the Erie Canal song ("Fifteen Miles" or something like that), which all New York schoolchildren learn. Anyway, it's good and you should go listen. And get off my back. : )

Christina October 15, 2007 at 10:22 AM  

OK, I'm really late to this post, but I just wanted to say that I understand how priorities can change after kids. You have to pick what matters to you the most, and you said that you place a high value on taking care of yourself as well as time with Evan, your husband, etc. If the dissertation happens to fall to the bottom, and you aren't upset about it, that's OK.

I had very good intentions of finishing my master's degree after my first was born. I never did, though, and I'm at peace with that decision. It's not that I still don't find theatre history and theory fascinating, but I don't want to devote that much time to it anymore. The changes in me since then have been part of the driving force that made me decide to go to nursing school.

You may be permanently changed, or this may be a rest stop in the journey towards your PhD. Either way, I won't think you foolish or think you'll regret any decision you make. Life is full of twists and turns - sometimes an unexpected twist can be exciting and open up to an exciting new experience.